At the start of this show former Labour minister Chris Mullin claims that his memoirs chart 'the entire rise and fall of New Labour from John Smith's death in 1994 to Gordon Brown leaving office in 2010'. From hearing the body of his talk, however, one would think that the rise and fall of New Labour turned entirely upon dinner-party anecdotes, witty repartees and delightful bons mots.
Mullin's politics-turned-nostalgia is pitch-perfect. He always has just the right anecdote to give us an original flavour of the high-profile characters to whom he has had access. The Queen brings Prince Philip to heel before he can put his foot in his mouth during a ceremony; George Galloway's bombast is cut down to size on a trip to Vietnam; and all sorts of ministers, both Labour and Tory, are given their own 'walk-on parts'. He is funny - very funny actually - with a confident, leisurely humour that always has a twinkle in its eye.
He has a measured tone, always polite and often self-deprecating, never missing an opportunity to regale us with an anecdote to which his own name is the punchline. This carefulness, however, can be frustrating and there are few insights offered about the political landscapes he traversed. The whole thing is very detached, with Mullin discussing events that changed millions of people's lives with a messing-about-in-boats whimsy.
The session ends with a Q&A, in which Mullin shows himself to be a versatile and courteous speaker, whose knowledge of geopolitics is, as you would expect after his years in the foreign office, impressive. But sometimes it seems that questions, rather than being answered honestly were appeased for the sake of an internal party agenda. On Ed Miliband, he tells us that it doesn't matter who leads a political party, as long as they have the policies to attract voters; whilst on the 2010 election, he tells us that Gordon Brown’s personality was the key reason for Labour losing. A curious contradiction.
Still, we're not here for hard politics. Mullin's anecdotes are the political equivalent of a glass of sherry: sweet, dry, comforting and perfect after dinner.